195. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Henry A. Kissinger

The meeting took place at my initiative in order to put before Dobrynin the general outline of our approach as it was developed between Bahr and me at Woodstock the previous weekend.2

I told Dobrynin that if the Soviet Government agreed to the general approach, we would try to find juridically neutral formulations to introduce the substance of each section and to confine the negotiations on Berlin to the practicalities of access, Federal presence, and similar matters.

Dobrynin said that he would have to transmit this to Moscow but, in principle, it seemed to him like a fruitful approach. I handed Dobrynin the German formulations since I was afraid that, if I undertook the translation, I would miss some words of art and because the draft had been prepared by Bahr. Dobrynin took the formulations, and there was some discussion as to whether they could be transmitted in the clear without indicating what they were, or whether there was some other way of transmitting them. I told him I would check and later called him to say that it would be better if they went in code.

We then discussed general subjects. I told Dobrynin that our approach on Berlin should indicate our good faith in attempting to come to some understanding with the Soviets. However, we were struck by the rapidity of their responses on Berlin and the slowness of their responses on SALT. I said I understood that they had a great interest in Berlin, but our interest as a nation was relatively less. Dobrynin said this was true—that the Soviet Government would appreciate it very much if there were some progress on Berlin, and they would take it as a sign of our good will. On the other hand, Dobrynin said that SALT [Page 567] was not a matter of such great concern to the Soviet Union because it ran into a lot of vested interests and the Soviet Government could take it or leave it. I told Dobrynin this was astonishing. Ever since the first six months of our stay in office we were being constantly pressed by the Soviets to move on SALT. He said, yes, but that had been on the basis of an agreement on general principles which Johnson had proposed to them. It was not in order to produce the sort of detailed solution that we were now advocating. Moreover, Dobrynin said that the Soviet Government thought their latest response to us had been within the framework of what we had wanted and now they would have to go back to the whole machinery again, and he was afraid that it would take some time. He did not think that there could be an answer until there had been at least two meetings of the Politburo. I told Dobrynin that some speed was important, for various reasons, and he said he felt there would be an answer during the week of May 10th.

Dobrynin then raised the issue of China policy. He said he hoped we were not trying to blackmail the Soviet Union by the moves we were making on China. The reaction in the Soviet Union would be very violent. I said to Dobrynin that, first of all, we had not initiated the moves. Secondly, we were too realistic to believe that we could blackmail the Soviet Union. We had stated publicly on innumerable occasions that we were prepared to normalize relations with the People’s Republic of China. We did not see how that could constitute any threat to the Soviet Union. Moreover, as Dobrynin well knew, there were a number of issues outstanding between us and the Soviet Union which, if resolved, would produce such an enormous improvement in our relationship that the whole issue of who was blackmailing whom would become academic. Dobrynin said again that he hoped we were not trying to blackmail them because the reaction in Moscow would be very negative. I assured him that it was not our intention to blackmail them, but it was our intention to conduct our own foreign policy which we had stated repeatedly, to the effect that growth of relations with one Communist country did not have to be purchased by the enmity of that country to other Communist countries.

On this note, the meeting ended.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [part 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. David Young reported in an attached note to Kissinger on May 12: “I have summarized the attached memcon for the President but you may not want to send it in view of today’s meeting and the fact that he has already received the report of a subsequent meeting; namely, Haig’s meeting with Dobrynin on May 5.” Kissinger, who left Washington on April 28 for a two-week working vacation in Palm Springs, wrote in the margin: “Just file.” The meeting was held at the White House in Hughes’s office.
  2. See footnotes 5 and 6, Document 192.